"Sing, feast, dance, make music and love, all in My Presence, for Mine is the ecstasy of the spirit and Mine also is joy on earth."
-- The Charge of the Goddess
Three days of dancing barefoot in the rain on Harry's Hill and practicing the seat-of-the-pants art of holistic field medicine brought an undeniable ecstasy.
But a few days in the human world always leaves me hungry for time alone with wild plants.
So this afternoon, when the rain let up I put on my lined flannel shirt and set off to gather Yarrow.
Yarrow is one of the plants I use most frequently in treating clients. I love Yarrow's ability to help the body released trapped heat. I also love the way the plant has both analgesic and anti-spasmodic actions, making it a wonderful ally for those experiencing muscle cramps and spasms. Combined with the plant's ability to regulate the menstual flow, these qualities also make the Yarrow an excellent ally for women with menstrual cramps. And I frequently use Yarrow and Elder together to treat colds and flus.
But Yarrow fascinates me most as a psychotropic plant, bordering on the entheogenic. ("Entheogen" is an ethnobotanical term for plants that induce profound spiritual experiences, bringing out the divinity inherent in all things.) Maude Grieve noted in A Modern Herbal (the source of the illustration above) that Yarrow "was one of the herbs dedicated to the Evil One, in earlier days, being sometimes known as Devil's Nettle, Devil's Plaything, Bad Man's Plaything, and was used for divination in spells. "
These names were, of course, given to the plant by medieval and early modern Christians who were trying to seperate people from seeking out the direct experience of the wild divinity of the living Earth. Divination, after all, is also the process of revealing the presence of the divine in all things -- and the wilderness was the place where people traditionally went to align their human and divine natures. This posed an obvious threat to those who would insist that the consciousness of the divine could not be accessed without their intercession and that the presence of the divine could only be felt in their churches.
What was so dangerous to these people about Yarrow?
I got my first glimpse of the answer last summer during my vision quest in the Pemigiwassett wilderness. On the third day of fasting, a throbbing headache was keeping me from being fully present. Yarrow was the one analgesic herb I had in my pack, so I began taking it -- just a dropperful at first, but then several more over the course of the next two hours. I felt my senses heighten and warmth radiating throughout my body. When I stumbled from my tent to the edge of my circle of stones, the Usnea growing on a fallen Hemlock branch became illuminated and began to speak to me.
To be sure, fasting, solitude, and the magic of the Usnea himself played big roles in shaping that moment -- but Yarrow was an important part of the mix. And the presence of a thujone, hypnot cannabanoid compound in Yarrow provides a partial biochemical explanation of what I experienced -- but
Today, as I gathered Yarrow, I was tasting the blossoms and some of the young leaves to try to find the patches with the strongest medicine. I felt that familar warmth and heightening of my senses. Though it was cloudy and it was late afternoon everything brightened.
I continued up the dirt road where we live toward the old Lincoln place. I noticed a fresh bundle of Yarrow flowers, recently picked, on the ground. But nobody has been in that place this summer and no cars came up or down the road today and my housemates had been inside all day as had Tom and Joanna up the road. I gathered them up and put them in my jar -- exactly enough to fill it the rest of the way to the top.
I turned around and the wind brought the scent of roses. Right across from me were blooming Prickly Roses that I had never seen in that place before.-- Rosa acicularis, a rose common to disturbed areas in boreal forests.
The scent alone opened my heart wide, and I felt at the edge of tears of gratitude and joy.
I looked up and a hawk circled overhead.
The porous nature of the boundaries the self became clear. Rose mind, Hawk mind, Yarrow mind, seeped into my own consciousness.
Something about Yarrow seems to facilitate the operation of the heart as an organ of perception -- or to drop the consciousness into the heart where the heart's perception plays a larger role in the self's processing of reality. Maybe this is the nature of divin-ation, the art of opening the heart wide enough to fine tune its sense of the electromagnetic flow around it, giving the mind access to information it would not normally be able to access. In that state, the unity and interconnectedness of living things becomes real -- and we have access to a web of information larger than ourselves, an ecological brain we might call Gaia.
And in the fractal reality that opens us to, all beings feel pleasure in our pleasure, and we become joy on Earth. At once human, wild, and divine.